The Psychology Of Fitness

Mindsets, Body Types and Everything In Between

You Must Own It – pt. 4

“Rules and The 3 Reasons Why We Stick By Them”
It’s not knowing what to do or how to do it that’s the problem.
Instead, it’s the rules that we make up that’s the problem.

Those rules ultimately determine how we view something and whether or not we will continue to do that said “thing”.  Some people call these “rules” or guidelines, beliefs.  For example, say you have 45 minutes to work out.  At the same time, you also have a “rule” that says, you must exercise at the minimum for an hour to be happy with your workout.  The result would be that since you have only 45 minutes, you would take it to mean that you “can’t” go to the gym.   This is despite the fact that, if I was training you, I could totally kick your ass in 25 minutes and ensure that you had an amazing workout.  Let me take that back, I could do it in 15 minutes and give you 10 minutes to take a shower.

Therefore, your rule says that unless you have an hour to BE at the gym, then you can’t work out.  This “rule” helps form your belief that “you don’t have time to work out.”  So when someone asks you whether or not you work out, you say, “I don’t have time to work out,” as though what you said was a fact.

We do this in every area of our lives and none is more telling than the constant beliefs we tell ourselves.  Our self-talk determines our rules and our rules determine our beliefs.  Our beliefs then determine what actions we will take.  This is the basis of ALL of our actions and in-actions along with all of our failed attempts at change.

Our actions then feed back into what we tell ourselves.  Sometimes when we do something new, we back up that new action with previous examples and therefore expand our rules and guidelines.  At other times we clamp down on that new action and defeat it in our heads as to rectify the difference between the “new” action and our rules.

To use the previous example, say you went to the gym although you only had 45 minutes and got in a good workout.   Despite not having the full hour to work out, you can look at this “new action” in one of two ways.  You would either back-up that “new” or un-habitual action with other times when you thought you didn’t have enough time and decided to do as much as possible in that limited amount of time.  If you thought in that manner, then you are on your way to forming a new and extended “rule or guideline.”  That new and extended rule or guideline can be something like, “I don’t need an hour to work out, but only need 45 minutes.”  Effectively opening up more opportunities for you to work out.

This also can be the start of transforming your belief of “not having enough time to work out.”  Instead of that old belief, you can start to form the belief of “A little bit is better than nothing.”  In forming that new belief, you have effectively shifted your mind.  It’s at this point, that your belief is most fragile.  The more times you repeat the action though, the more opportunities you give your actions to break through your limiting beliefs and open a whole new world of possibilities.

The reverse of that is called cognitive dissonance.  This is when you look at that “new action” of going to the gym and instead of realizing that “A little bit is better than nothing,” you decide to clamp down on your belief that, “I don’t have enough time to work out.*”  Say you went to the gym, but instead of trying to enjoy the work out, you get frustrated that you “don’t have enough time to work out.”  Since you “don’t have enough time to work out” and that’s what you’re focusing on, you get annoyed that you have to switch up your routine in the gym.  Instead of doing 45 minutes on the treadmill followed by 15 minutes of weights, like you normally do, you have to make a new decision.  You have to decide to whether to stay on the treadmill for 30 minutes and leave or do 15 minutes on the treadmill and 15 minutes with weights.  Since you can’t have what you want and crave (the full 60 minutes), you look at the decision as something you HAVE TO do and therefore lose autonomy with the whole experience.  By losing autonomy, along with disliking the “fact” that you “didn’t have enough time to work out,” you effectively solidified that belief even more than what it was previously.  This is obviously despite the evidence (you actually went to the gym and worked out) that you do have time to work out.

As Daniel Pink describes in his book Drive, behavioral scientists divide the actions we take and what we learn into two large main categories, Algorithmic and Heuristic:
“An algorithmic task is one in which you follow a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion.  That is, there’s an algorithm for solving it.  A heuristic task is the opposite.  Precisely because no algorithm exists for it, you have to experiment with possibilities and devise a novel solution.”

In the above example, you turned your normal, algorithmic workout routine into a new, heuristic one.  Many people enjoy doing heuristic thinking and being creative, unless they see it as something that they MUST do and therefore are no longer choosing to do so (that whole being autonomous aspect).  In not having the final choice, they see the extra thinking through a very narrow lens.   Because our attention is focused and we have to “problem solve,” instead of seeing it as a creative pursuit, the decision eats at our reserve of self-control.  By taxing our self-control, and not feeling autonomous, we feel discontented.  That discontention then leads us to further solidifying our “I don’t have enough time” rule and further solidifies non-action when we could be forging a new path.

These three reasons:
1 – The “Rules” we make up, which then form our beliefs,
2 – The ways we respond to novel situations – Either with an expanding of our horizons or a clamping down of the difference between what we have done/thought vs. our previous “rules” and the resulting cognitive dissonance, and
3 – Having a loss of perceived Autonomy because of the need to to let go of the algorithmic autopilot of our mind/lives and onto a new and creative heuristic path…
…are the main reasons why people who don’t work out, will continue to NOT work out.  For them, it’s just too much damn work, or as Al Pacino says in Scent of a Woman, “It was too damn hard!”  This is despite their knowledge of what to do and actually having time to do it.

In the next post, I will describe in fuller detail the “9 Steps of Ownership,” but felt it was important to try and define why people stay UnMotivated with change and to describe why you can never help somoene that is unwilling to help themselves.  See you next Monday.

*By the way, none of this, or very little of this is done consciously with any given thought, belief or “rule” that we give ourselves.  Which is why, becoming aware of our rules, how we spend our time and what we tell ourselves is so imperative to changing a habit.  Ultimately, what we tell ourselves seems to be about 90-95% opinion or “belief” and 5-10% fact.

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